I love Halo. I really, really do. So as you can imagine, when Bungie took off and left their FPS opus behind, I was a little concerned as to how the series would endure in their absence; especially with a largely unproven codehouse in 343 Industries at the helm.
Also to the casual observer who isn’t intimate with all things Halo, its perhaps understandably all too easy to dismiss it based on prejudices centered on the fact that its just another FPS sequel.
Well, it is another FPS sequel, but here are seven reasons why I believe Halo 4 will be the freshest and most relevant entry in the series for a long time.
Return of the Master Chief
Good ol‘ MC has been out of the main event picture for nearly five years now. Five years. Now, to the uninitated. the abscense of a big, faceless dude in a suit of armour might not be such a big deal, but to the rest of us frothing-at-the-mouth Halo fans, his spotty attendance has been a point of chagrin indeed.
Without sounding like a particuarly overzealous man-crush, the iconic Master Chief is as much the heart of Halo as anything else is. His stoic attitude and penchant for wholesale alien genocide combined with the sorts of one-liners that we thought had all been extinct since the 80’s ruefully drew to a close, make the Master Chief one of the most enduring aspects of the franchise.
In Halo 4, there are no groups of second-tier Spartans or ‘Helljumpers‘ hogging the limelight here, no; just John 117 and his gleeful OCD for handing exter-terristerials their asses on a plate and sounding suitably po-faced and gruff while he does it.
And it isn’t just the ‘Chief that we get to see again either, we also find ourselves reacquainted with his AI counterpart Cortana who, during the four year gap between Halo 4 and 3, has apparently had some of her programming eroded and is prone to psychological breakdowns. So as well as new foes and old, our hero also has an AI stuck in his head with a severely nasty case of psychosis.
At the end of the day though, Halo without the Master Chief is like bread without butter, or Scarface without cocaine.
It’ll be good to have him back.
Spartan Ops – Next Time On Halo 4…
They had to get rid of Firefight mode to get it in there, but I don’t care; mostly because if I wanted to indulge myself in that gametype, I could be better served in a similar vein from the likes of the Gears of War and Call of Duty titles. Thats fine though, because Spartan Ops aims to continue the story of Halo 4 (it takes place some six months after its conclusion apparently), and enables up to four players to take place in weekly, episodic co-operative mission scenarios which are tied into the overall narrative.
Best of all, 343 Industries has confirmed that it will be completely free and will offer up to fifty missions (five missions per chapter with ten chapters). Whilst we’re really none the wiser at this juncture as to just what the content of these missions will be, the smart money is that they’ll be shorter, more accessible snippets of Halo-action, with a focus on specific objectives.
As well as providing the player with additional bang for their buck, Spartan Ops also serves a bespoke storytelling purpose as well. The narrative endgame for this mode so to speak, is that the Master Chief will meet up with the UNSC Infinity (effectively the hub of Halo 4), and tie up the Halo 4 storyline before leading into the inevitable Halo 5.
And obviously its all totally free. Did I mention that part?
Improved Forge Mode – Idle hands make for great maps
Tweaking things. Everybody loves to tweak things, or in the case of Halo, people like to tweak levels, or rather the stuff in them. Halo 4 marks the return of a newly invigorated Forge mode, allowing players to customise things even further then they could before.
In the past, players could tune aspects of any given level; including player health, shielding, item placement and much more effectively customising the maps and allowing them to be shared for others to play in custom gametypes.
Details are scarce regarding the improvements that have been made to the mode, but no doubt we can expect some significant advancements here; especially considering the strides that Halo: Reach made with Forge over Halo 3.
A New Foe – Enter The ‘Prometheans’
The Covenant were a cool, multi-facted threat to butt heads against certainly, The Flood however, less so. So while its good to see our old foes back in the mix once again, its much more appealing to have some new blood.
On appearance, Master Chief’s new Forerunner related foe, the Prometheans, seem to resemble large cybernetic insects, capable of flight, rapid teleportation and inflicting tremendous damage with a deliciously futuristic arsenal consisting of both melee and ranged weaponary.
They look every bit a comparable foil for the returning Master Chief and then even die stylishly too, with a fancy particle effect applied to their death throes as they are slowly erased from existence.
By the looks of things then, they‘ll be a very welcome respite from the Covenant/Flood opposition that has characterised Halo games for the last decade.
I still love my grunts though.
The Continuation – Finishing Where We Left Off, While Breaking New Ground
Any Halo fan worth their salt is invariably, for better or worse, invested in the storyline that former developers Bungie have woven up until now and will be eager to see a decent continuation. When Master Chief was floating away in deepest, darkest space at the end of Halo 3, our minds had to wander as to where our eponymous hero would end up.
Halo 4 takes that ball and runs with it, crafting a whole new trilogy that aims to combine previous conflicts with Covenant stragglers along with new battles against the mysterious Prometheans, who may, or may not, be a Forerunner-related race.
As well as new and old foes alike, we’ll also get to see a plethora of new, more friendlier faces too. Most prominent among these, will be the crew of UNSC Infinity whom will dart in and out of Halo 4′s main storyline and can actually be seen in the Halo 4 live action film, ‘Forward Unto Dawn’.
Ultimately then, as much as Halo 4 is arugably a direct continuation to Halo 3 in narrative terms, its also very much its own beast; striking out into new territories with a brand new trilogy of games set to span the divide between this console generation and the next.
New Weapons, New Toys
As much as I find like the trusty Battle Rifle as a nerdgasmic piece of weaponary, or the delightfully pleasant sound of the light sizzle of a plasma grenade sticking to the-soon-to-be scattered anaotomy of cowering Grunt, my being hungers for fresh innovation in my interspieces violence and Halo 4 looks to deliver.
With Halo 4 introducing new foes in the form of the insectoid-like Prometheans, its only natural that our new alien buddies bring along some new toys for us to loot off their corpses and kill their brethren with.
To this end, a whole bunch of Promethean weponary such as the Light Rifle and Promethean Repeater appear to be impressive additions to Halo 4’s arsenal. These weapons not only showcase diverse astehetics but also varied applications to violence with the Light Rifle in particular looking like a hugely stylish way to dispatch foes from long-distances.
It isn’t just insidious Prometheans who will be adding to Halo 4’s armoury either, since the good guys are also due to recieve some toys of their own. Chief among those known at the moment include the tremendously powerful Railgun and the Remote Projectile Detanator, which fires an adhesive rocket or grenade; allowing said payload to stick to any surface which can then be detonated on command.
The variety of new gear on offer (some of which we still know nothing about), alongside the return of classic weapons, both Human and Covenant alike, point towards Halo 4 having the most comprehensive collection of hurtful tools in any game of the series thus far.
I want them. I want them all. Except the needler, obviously.
Competitive Online Multiplayer – How Wargames Refines The Classic Formula
With previous Halo games appearing out of touch with their FPS contemporaries in terms of how they handle their competetive online multiplayer, with their killstreaks, perks and whatnot, I was intrigued to see what developers 343 Industries would change up with Halo 4′s competitive, online multiplayer mode, otherwise known as ‘Wargames’.
To start with, it seems on the face of it that 343 industries have had a long, hard look at other shooters on the market and have, for lack of a better word, taken ‘inspiration’ from the popular feature-sets seen in these games.
The most glaring examples of this is the ability to customise your weapon loadouts, the ‘passive abilities’ which echo the perks seen in Call of Duty and the accrual of killstreaks which in turn result in ‘Ordanance Drops’; again is effectively Halo 4′s equivilant of the care packages seen in Activision’s meal ticket FPS.
That said, while it does appear that Halo 4 is merely trying to play catch up with everybody else, I think its cruical to remember that all of these things; the passive abilities, the loadouts, the killstreaks, ordanance drops and much more, is all being layered on top of that classic Halo gameplay. So all of those features will be intertwined with the physics, the vehicular combat and all of those other things that make Halo feel, well, uniquely Halo.
Additionally, its in the classic Halo gameplay itself that other, more subversive changes have taken place in Halo 4′s ‘Wargames’; with a view to making the game a faster, more frenetic experience. Sprint is now default ability available to all (whereas in Halo: Reach it was a separate ability that you had to sacrifice another for), reloading and weapon switching has been sped up and instant respawns are now part of the game, resulting in some truly fast paced, combatative encounters.
These sorts of tweaks to the online multiplayer formula are exactly what Halo’s competitive multiplayer needs and while their inclusion could be viewed as cynical, I feel that these additions complement that unique, Halo multiplayer experience rather than overwhelm it.
Roll on November and let’s start the fight. Again.
Halo 4 releases November 6th worldwide, exclusively on Xbox 360 in both standard and limited editions.